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Be the light.

Digging down a bit, processing in prose, some images, themes and feelings from my recent weeks, and stories from friends and colleagues who’ve been struggling.
(If we’ve spoken recently friend, know that I’m thinking of you.)
———————-
How do you react when your peace is threatened?
How do you calm the fear in someone’s eyes when they’re afraid?
Each of us hits a fucking wall of emotional exhaustion at our own limit, in our time.
Sometimes, it’s a major disaster in a very bad year.
Sometimes, it’s dark, scared moments in your head in any given month, where nobody else can see.
For some, loss is a way of life, like the pain and pace of a marathon hike.
For others, loss is a looping internal pain, a black hole to be repeatedly filled and emptied, or avoided.
We’re each of us incomplete, finite, looking for something external to fulfill us.
We’ve all had loss. We all share some truths, and maybe we see them, and maybe not.

Happiness and love are the light source you cannot see.
Light itself is invisible: it can only be seen by its effect on other things.
Sunlight lights up pollen and swirls of dust in its beams, reflecting the path to light the way.
“Got to be an Invisible Sun. Gives its heat to everyone.”

So, my best advice is to be the light.
Don’t worry about not knowing what to say in some crucial moment.
Don’t worry about being shone on yourself, being lit up by the embarassing frailty of your heart.
We all have that. Nobody is any less scared than you are.
Be a way to help someone else shine, even if it’s just by being comforting company – a presence, a companion.
Bear witness, lend a hand, an arm, a shoulder, a hug, a kiss.
Be the light, the warmth, that the moment needs.
Help others find their way, and your own path will never be unlit.

When Mum escaped with me, to see Star Wars.

In 1977, I begged my folks to take me to see Star Wars. My Dad didn’t go to movies (in fact, he didn’t do much of anything aside from work and buy groceries), but my Mother decided to take me.

It was maybe May or June of 1977. An ad for Star Wars was playing on TV and I was jumping up and down, saying “This is it! Can I go to see Star Wars?” I really lost my shit over it. In fact, I don’t think I’d ever been excited about anything the way the Star Wars movie had excited me. I wanted to see it so much, and I really wanted my Dad (family authority and sole car driver) to know how strongly I felt about it. The movie was new and exciting, and it was calling to me. I had to go.

Dad said something like he wasn’t interested in some space opera. I remembered that he listened to country music, and wasn’t into science fiction or fantasy or anything fun or imaginative. (However, I would recall years later how his eyes would light up a bit when he’d talk about physics or technology, or how he told me that as a kid, he used to enjoy those Buster Crabbe Flash Gordon movie serials. Ironic.)

So, Dad didn’t take me to see Star Wars. But something really cool happened. My Mother took me.

I need to explain why this was such a big deal. Telling you the story of why requires that I tell you a bit of the recent history of my family up to this point.

My mother, Angela, had been an only child, and she had always been particularly close to her father – maybe even a bit dependant on him. Ever since her Mother died in 1971, Angela and her father probably needed each other more than ever. He lived in Victoria and she in Vancouver. In her heart, I believe that no man was as important to Angela as her Dad. This was probably obvious to my father James, and I suppose it would have grated on his pride and sense of authority. James didn’t consider himself second-best to anybody, living or dead.

But in 1977, Angela’s father did die, and a huge portion of her heart went down into the grave with him. Already a manic-depressive and an alcoholic, Angela slumped into a deep depression, never leaving the house, and spending most of her time either upstairs in her bed, or downstairs, laying on the couch with her back to us. Even in healthier days past, she’d never been all that communicative with my sister and me, and had never seemed suited to any degree of parenthood, but she became even more remote and non-commuicative after the loss of her beloved Dad. She gave up trying to have any kind of life, she gave up on interacting almost entirely, and gradually she gave up on eating as well.

She had succumbed to her own darkness, avoiding her family and even daylight itself. She’d get up during the night and raid the fridge to make a sandwich or to drink, or maybe she’d vomit in the bathroom sink (or on the carpet if she didn’t make it). It was no way to live. I think that Angela hated her life and was in the gradual process of trying to get out of it by drinking herself to death.

While all this was happening, my sister and I swallowed our worry, fear or dread, and did what our Dad seemed to do: walk around the problem, not talk about it, and try to make it seem inconsequential or even somehow normal. But it wasn’t normal at all. Angela’s darkness had her wrapped up tight.

So that’s why it was such a rare and delightful surprise to find myself walking with my Mum down Granvillle Street on that sunny day. She had put on makeup and white gloves to mask the colourful scars on her face and hands (the result of a terrible housefire while she was pregnant with me, about eleven years earlier), and she’d worn her pretty mink jacket, as if she were going to a Broadway premiere. She’d dusted off her class and self-respect for everyone to see, and I was so happy and proud to be with her that day.

We went into the Vogue Theatre, and sat down inside an audience that had an electric energy throughout it. Everyone was talking and the whole space buzzed and hummed with anticipation. The lights went down, and as the coming attractions played, a shower of ice and popcorn rained down from the balcony above us. I’d never seen anything like it before.

Then it was the movie! First the black screen, then BAM! Logo! Horns! Trumpets blaring! I was out of my mind. Mum was sitting right next to me, but for the next couple of hours, I was long gone in that galaxy far, far away. That one movie made all fantasy movies important for me in a new way. I wanted to escape from my home life into new, exciting and rewarding worlds whenever I could, and as often as possible, I would.

And maybe Angela wanted to escape too. As a little girl, she had loved The Wizard of Oz. She identified with Dorothy, and maybe she’d even fancied herself something of a Judy Garland. Under her sad scars from third-degree burns, Angela had once been movie star beautiful. In her youth, she’d sung and acted in local theatre in Victoria, and could play piano and violin with great skill. She had once been lively and beautiful, but always dogged by manic-depression and then alcoholism.

Maybe her connection to her father had been her compass bearing to happer, earlier times – glory days in another life, long ago and far away. As she got older and her life got unhappier, she wanted to escape, I suppose. Perhaps when Poppy died, she felt there’d never be any rescue for her. Maybe with that she wanted to die too, perhaps to even be with her father again. I will never know.

But for that one day, perhaps she saw a chance to escape in a happier way, to see a story that resembled a movie she’d loved as a kid. So, she escaped with her son, and took him to see Star Wars. It was the last thing we ever did together as Mother and Son.

A number of months later, Angela would succeed in drinking herself right to the edge of death, ruining her liver and suffering permanent brain damage. If she’d stayed home for 24 hours more, she’d surely have died in her bed. She did survive, but with permanent brain damage, a loss of years of memory, and a somewhat different personality than before. She was permanently transformed. Her next eighteen years were lived in a variety of hospitals and care homes, particularly Riverview, where she died in 1995.

This is why Angela getting up off the couch and dressing up to take me downtown was such a big deal. It was something I wanted, and although I’ll never know if she did it for me, it was probably something that she wanted too: an afternoon’s escape into fantasy heroics and ideals so that you could forget the dead-end darkness that waited for you back at home.

When I watch Star Wars, I see myself in Luke Skywalker. When I watch The Wizard of Oz, I see Angela Love in Dorothy Gale.

That closet, full of moments…

It’s a metaphor for storage, for the past, or for things that may remain hidden away: the closet.

It’s a place for some people to emerge from, because they’ve been hiding in it for protection from someone or something nasty.

It’s a place to hide your past, your insecurities, and those bad memories.

It’s a smokescreen, a duck-blind, a refuge – a place to hide the truth from yourself, a diversion to pretend things are better than they are.

I’ve prided myself on being honest and straight-forward, on being someone who doesn’t feel shame for past mistakes. And yet, you cannot wear the past on your back everywhere you go. That’s for stronger beings than me (like crabs or snails). It has to be stashed somewhere, packed up, tucked away from your current life (therapists are really closet organizers – everything’s still there, just easier to recognize and manage).

All this is just so you can *have* a current life, and rebuild new healthy contexts and interactions. The present must transform into the past, eventually. Otherwise, you’ll make people roll their eyes and feel uncomfortable at parties. Leave that shit at home, please.

So, I see my past as a large walk-in closet, behind a thick door. The door gives direct access but opens outward, and there’s a lot of stuff piled up behind it. My conceit is also my fear: when opened for someone, all my crap will spill out, and simultaneously impress and alienate whomever sees it.

The thing is, I’m fooling myself into pretending the closet is secret or private. In actual fact, I’ve been spilling my guts in one way or another for almost 20 years. The other side of the closet is made of magical glass walls, like an infinitely large display case. From the outside, it’s a huge diarama: an organized, staged display of various wonders and horrors, which I weakly attempt to curate like an amateur PT Barnum, or that Ripley guy. (Step right up, folks!)

But I do want to share it with you. I want you to spend time looking around, but I guess I’m afraid that after you do, you might never want to visit again.

Anyway, thanks for your interest. Here – let me stamp the back of your hand. Don’t worry, that mark should wear off in a few days.

Have a good time, my friend.

A beautiful blossom, and a community to nurture it.

These words will be my attempt to capture the joy and delight of watching a friend and former colleague unfurl like a crisp, white sail on a very special day.

I first met Carol when she interviewed for a co-op programmer position at Vancouver English Centre (a large ESL school in the Yaletown district of Vancouver). We needed a programmer and DBA, and I’d convinced my boss to hire a co-op student. Carol’s grades and programmng training were strong, but having interviewed a number of enthusiastic young students in the past, what stood out for me was her interpersonal skills; she had a sensitive emotional intelligence which I’d not seen in her peers. So, Carol signed on for an eight-month co-op appointment and she rapidly became not just a technical resource to me and our staff, but also a warmly-liked (and to some, beloved) member of our school’s little technical team.

Still in her mid-twenties at that point, Carol had many observations about life, and was still in the midst of deciding which path she might take in her career. As she told me about her life in China before her family came to Canada, and about her life as a student at Simon Fraser University, she aways emanated a hopefulness, lightness and buoyant optimism that easily eroded any of my jaded experience and cynical world-views. In short, in spite of any worries or questions that may have been facing her, Carol always smiled, appreciated her life, and held a hopeful, positive approach.

Over those eight months working together, Carol became a joyful “little sister” figure to me, inspiring me to be at my best as her mentor and supervisor. I’m about ten or eleven years older than Carol, and have had some experience managing small teams in other companies, but I’ve always wanted my working relationships to be that of equal humans who happen to have different experiences. I try to remember that regardless of our different backgrounds, each of us is an expert in something, and so, each is worthy of respect. Carol would sometimes tease me and refer to me as her teacher or mentor, and we’d laugh as I stroked my long, imaginary wizard’s beard.

I cannot recall if I ever gave her advice of any real value, but we talked about beliefs a lot – belief systems, values that were important to each of us, and events in our families or personal experiences that influenced us. Carol had her own ideas about values and morals, and her inquisitive nature and life experiences led her to consider Christianity as her preferred value system.

After her co-op term was completed and she graduated from SFU, she found employment nearby, doing programming and testing for a large software company. She had settled into the beginning of her career and transformed from a student-learner to a skilled knowledge worker and engineer.

After that point, Carol and I generally lost touch for many years, finally connecting again in the last few years via LinkedIn, and then Facebook, where I discovered that she had an eye for beauty and a talent for photography. It was in Carol’s close-up photographs of flowers and plants that I caught a glimpse of her curiosity and her idealism: her love of simplicity, purity, and iconic symbolism. Maybe all the world might be found in the heart of a flower, or in the right moment of light cast upon a statue in the park. I could see that Carol had calm patience, a good eye for detail, and a steady hand.

When we finally shared lunch at my work a couple of months ago, my little Chinese sister bounded into the foyer like a reindeer on Christmas morning. Rarely have I felt so touched and welcomed as by Carol in that one, enthusiastic greeting. Once again, I felt that familiar glow of unbridled joy that was dear Carol. She told me I was still her mentor, and we laughed about my continued yet unlikely candidacy for that position. After we had a happy lunch catching up on each others lives, she invited me to attend her wedding. As my jaw hung open, she laughed, telling me that her fiance was also named John. I beamed, telling her how very happy I was for her. Now, her joyous leaps and bounds became even clearer to me: this was the major happiness in her life, and she was truly the happiest I’d ever seen her. The young lady who’d wondered to me about philosophy and values had found them within her Christian faith and, through her church community, she’d also found her life partner. Carol had indeed resolved her personal patterns and closed her circles. She seemed to truly  have found the things that she needed to complete herself on a personal level.

My wife and I sat in the church, and witnessed the community and camraderie around us. The mothers of the bride and groom held hands as they walked to the front and lit a candle together – a most heart-warming and beautiful symbol of family unity. We watched the groom and his party walk with head held high to the front, and finally, Carol and her father walked gingerly down the aisle, walking in carefully-timed steps, as if on eggshells. Carol was an elegant, beautiful vision in white satin and lace, and she seemed in that moment to embody the idealistic virtues that she’d demonstrated in the past.

My impression is that this new couple are surrounded by loving family and friends, and grounded in a very strong community. Such caring support bodes very well for their future happiness and success. What a lovely couple they make, and how happy I am for dear Carol.

It’s indeed a joy and an honour to witness the moment when someone you’ve known is unfurled into their fullest, best self, like a crisp white sail in a strong wind.

You are the tapestry you’ve been trying to create.

You’re born into the middle of someone’s else’s life; pushed out onto the stage during the middle of someone else’s big monologue. That’s their spotlight that’s warming your tender skin and blinding your sensitive eyes, kid.

Your lines are not your own to speak until you’ve owned them for a long time. How much of your personal dialogue – your own story – was subtly embedded within you by your parents, or by their parents? Where do they end and you begin?

Plans – words- are just intentions, not guarantees. Everyone you know is really just making it up as they go along. Anyone who claims otherwise is bullshitting you.

Life can strike a hard line for you to cross. The proof’s in the pudding. Actions speak louder than words. Put your money where your mouth is. Shit or get off the pot.

It’s up to you to take all your little threads of memory, the little scraps of life from your past, and weave them into something new. If you’re artistic type, you’ll feel compelled to externalize it all – to make some artefact that others can see. That’s your inner gut-animal crying out “Look at me! See me! Join me!”

Maybe, whether or not you create an artefact, you are still creating something real and new each day, just by living your life. You are still adding to the fabric of life just by being there.

Maybe you are the tapestry that you’ve been trying to create all along.

Saying what you mean, and meaning what you say…

My god, of all the things that I could call important in this life, perhaps authenticity (or perhaps better stated as sincerity) is the most important thing.

When people say you are real or the real deal, this is what they mean.

When people know where they stand with you, it’s because you are this way.

When their eyes say that they care, even if their words don’t, it’s because you have been this way with them.

When they reciprocate with support, honesty or integrity, it’s because you have demonstrated those values to them.

With anyone of good character and compassion, you will get out what you put in.

The Ebb and Flow of Curtis James

Today, as I often do, I saw Curtis James pan-handling at Stadium SkyTrain station. Normally he’s a fairly upbeat, even cheery fellow, but he was different today. He was quite agitated with humanity.

“You’re not in your usual spot, out front there today”, I observed, dropping a little change into his upturned ball cap. It was weird to see Curtis standing off to the side, shaking his head and not smiling or interacting with people. Usually he was quite social.

“People are mean today. They don’t care,” he said bitterly. “I’ve had it – to like, like this!” He raised his hand above the level of his head. He was fucking frustrated, the poor guy.

His fingernails were long, dirty and hooked like claws, making his hands look dangerous. I wondered if anyone ever took care of him.

“Aw, people can suck sometimes, yeah,” I tried to sympathize. I’d never seen Curtis so obviously impatient with the apathy of his fellow man. I speculated that maybe he hadn’t gathered any change today, or maybe he’d just felt ignored.

“Don’t let ‘em get you down, man. You stay positive.” The words came out automatically and sounded hollow even as I said them.

“Yeah, I need to change my outlook,” he muttered, working on convincing himself.

“Find that happy place – your happy place.”

Curtis’s face changed from disappointment to resolve, just like that. His energy picked up, and he looked at me with furrowed brows and serious eyes. He began quoting something inspirational from the bible, and I found us both walking down into the SkyTrain station together.

He was resilient, and was starting to mentally self-correct. “You take care of yourself now,” I said, starting to turn away.

“God bless you, brother,” he said, patting my shoulder. He was happier now, and gave me a big open yellow smile. I smiled back and meant it, and Curtis exclaimed “John Love!”, which was the nicest compliment I’d gotten all day.

Everyone has a shitty day sometimes, no matter who you are.

 

Remembering Dad’s Birthday…

Remembered Dad’s birthday again. Sometimes it feels like it’s slipping away.
I remember the man at different times.

I remember when he taught me to lace my runners when i was eight. He taught me the shape and sequence of tying them myself.
Later, when I twisted my ankle badly, he put me down on the couch and i felt cared for.

I remember him being the boss at his job, commanding respect with his inherent authority. At home, he was the boss too, and hated criticism and was not wrong.

I remember being a teen. He taught me how to punch, and he let he practice my one-two, left-right punches on his open, calloused hands. I wasn’t as big or confident as the other guys, and he wanted me to defend myself. He made me feel strong and proud, like a young man. There was no defense from him though, if I ever crossed him or challenged him. He did punch me once in anger, and it hurt. When I didn’t look up to him, I might feel fear of him.

I remember the contradictory lessons. The words he spoke were right, fair and ethical: “Respect the rights of others”, he would preach, and we tried to understand. But some of his words were sometimes racist, and some of his actions had no self-respect in them, or were downright hurtful to others.

He had difficulty with women, yet probably yearned to put them on a pedestal. He had serious, intelligent thoughts, yet being aďdicted to alcohol made him seem less intelligent. He loved his siblings and spoke warmly of being a kid and playing with them, but he rarely phoned any of them, and never wrote.

You were my hero, old man, from when I was old enough to walk until your heart attack and numerous strokes took away your ability to walk. By the time that your body had broken down enough and it stopped obeying you, I was beginning to live my own life at 19, and didn’t have to obey you. Then, when i loved you, you were a busted-down, but sweet and harmless man, staring off dreamily into past glories, remembering how great you once were. If you were bitter or hurtful, or had resentment or anger in your voice, I could tell myself it was maybe your own karma coming back to haunt you. I didn’t have to listen, and now I would never fear you again. Damage and near-death had rendered you a docile and toothless old tiger. Now I feared for you, not from you.

You built our family, and you played a huge part in tearing it down, directly and directly. I stood by you when you needed me, and I needed you to need me, Dad. If you learned from the mistakes you made, you didn’t admit it, but I could see the damned regret in your eyes.

I may be bitter about how some things happened, or wish that we’d had more years together, or that, most of all, you and mum could have stayed healthy and in love, instead of resentful, hurt, and physically and emotionally separated for the last 15 years of your life. It was what it was, and you and mum take many truths with you, that we’ll never see.

So this is this year’s memorial to you, Dad. My contradictory, heroic, villain of a father. Your sweetness comes with some bitterness,  but I hold my head up for having been your son once, about twenty-six years ago.

“All anyone needs is an E.D.!”

My street-panhandler friend, Curtis James, was on a real funny rant today, outside Stadium SkyTrain:

Curtis: “Doctor Love! I should call you Doctor Love!”

Me: “Sure man. You wouldn’t be the first. I do make house-calls.”

Curtis: “You should be Professor Love!” Then he thought for a moment before continuing. “Naw, you know, you don’t need a doctor of science degree, or a masters of math degree, or a bachelors of arts and science degree. You don’t need a PhD or a Doctors of anything degree. What you need is an E.D. All anyone needs is an E.D.!”

Me: “An E.D.? What?”

Curtis: “Everyone should have an E.D.”

Me: (Starting to chuckle) “Naw man, I don’t want E.D. Anyway, they have a little blue pill for that.” No response except for Curtis’ confused expression. Then he was off again on his universal idea.

Curtis: “You need to be a Doctor of Education, that’s all you need! Then you’re the doctor. ED – the Education Doctor! That’s all you need man!” By this time, Curtis has really gotten me laughing.

Me: “I think that the good teachers want you to really learn how to learn, to be able to teach yourself, to learn face-first from life.”

I shook his hand and wished him a happy day.

Considering the Highs and Lows…

As I approach my fifth decade, I feel a renewed sympathy for my late mother, Angela. Angela Huntley Love (1931-1995) struggled with bi-polarism and depression throughout most of her life. In hindsight, it seems obvious that her mental health challenges held her back from becoming her best self. She might have become a professional singer, or maybe an actress, or a musician, or all of those things if she’d wanted to, but that never happened. She’s been gone since 1995, but she and her sad history of mental illness have practically never been out of my thoughts.

My Mum had at least two nervous breakdowns that I’m aware of, each landing her in Riverview Psychiatric Hospital in Coquitlam. As kids, all my sister and I knew was that our Mum had a nervous breakdown, but it was never explained to us what that actually meant. We had no idea what our Mum was thinking or how she felt. Back in the seventies, when an adult had an emotional or mental breakdown, it wasn’t a shared experience – least of all to the kids. It was something to be ashamed of, to regret, like a failure, or to just swallow down and keep inside, wrapped in mystery and dread.

I learned about my Mum’s condition or wellness by listening in on grown-up conversations, and I discovered her medications by finding prescriptions for lithium sulphate in her coat pockets when I was rifling around for change. That was during the seventies, when things like mental illness were still generally stigmatized. These days, our culture is so much more open and supportive regarding mental health issues, and we’re much better off as a culture, in my opinion.

We all come from somewhere…

In my life, I’ve been fortunate to have not been challenged with chronic depression or bi-polarism. However, I can say that I’ve had depressed moments, tiny little manic flights of grandiosity, and periods of time when the world seemed to bring me too many terrible misfortunes all out of my control. (Interestingly, that sentence made me sound as if I have had chronic, recurring issues, although in my experience they’ve always been separate, spaced apart by years at a time.)

In my pre-teen and teen years, there was always a quiet, invisible dark cloud over my family and over our home (the stage for our worst scenes). As a kid, I always felt the presence of the cloud but it was invisible or at least never publicly acknowledged around me. I usually walked around feeling extremely self-conscious, certain that others were speaking about me behind my back or gossiping as I walked by. You could never know if others were discussing your family behind your back, either with benevolent, supportive intentions, or just as lascivious, thoughtless gossip. Between the ages of twelve and eighteen, I was sensitive, insecure, and mildly paranoid most of the time.

I’d always wondered why I’d been born into a family with dysfunctional, alcoholic parents who always seemed to be so unhappy and fighting. As a kid, you perceive things in a self-centred “why me” sort of response, and so “why me” (and the inevitable side-step into “poor me”) were constant background questions as I grew up – pretty much until I was old enough to live on my own and finally move along a positive life path.

Looking back, now that I’m an adult closer to the ages my parents were when I was a teen, I can see that my Mother was deeply depressed about the death of her beloved father, and probably also very unhappy in her marriage, and probably in her life in general (and menopause may have also played a factor in her feelings as well).

Angela had been an only child, and had a very strong bond with her father – probably stronger than to her husband. She was Daddy’s Little Girl, and I have no doubt that this imbalance of loyalty between father and husband was noticed by my Dad, and probably frustrated him.

Angela began self-medicating with alcohol in her teens, and her drinking and depression only worsened as the years went on. Later, in our family, it became the “elephant in the room” scenario, where nobody spoke out or took positive action to get her help. I want to believe that Angela could not see other people’s points of view, nor realize how her depression and alcoholism were hurting the people around her. I need to believe that to keep her sympathetic in my mind. It’s so hard to feel bitterness or anger towards her.

As for my Dad, he was a deeply proud man from a family of four brothers and one sister. The stories he told of his parents were of hard-working people who selflessly raised their kids with the same values. It was an idealised image which I truly think he believed, and I believe it too. But, his idealism, when used to protect himself, could also be a smokescreen, camouflaging his worst insecurities and personal demons. It wouldn’t be until a few years before his death that I’d learn more about my Dad’s negative attachment issues with women, and years after that when I’d really understand the long-term damage he’d caused in my family. He did some selfish evil shit, which contradicted the values he preached to us, so my sympathy for him yields easily to resentment, whenever I do think of the bad times.

You might be done with the past, but the past ain’t done with you…

Angela never really spoke to me much, ever. I cannot recall one actual conversation with her – just a few minimal words here and there. She just didn’t interact much, and anything I think I know about her came from other people. She offered nothing emotionally, and I will never know what was in her mind or what she thought of me, either as her son or as a person.

Thinking about what I know about Angela’s personality and mental health challenges, I have always wondered how far my apple fell from her tree.

The Apple and the Tree…

Over the years, I’ve experienced my own episodes of severe sorrow, anxiety, or momentary depression:

  • Back in 1999, the following events caused in a me a dramatic temporary episode that really scared me: I was in transition between jobs, and my sister had reported that she thought her Doctor might diagnose her with cancer (she was waiting on the results of a biopsy at the time). Further, a childhood friend had been struggling with crack and alcohol addiction. (I’ve written about this episode before.) All of these things were out of my control, and as I worried about them one night, I felt my emotions just suddenly go dead, and I felt like I was falling down a very dark hole in my mind. This concerned and fascinated me, so I took my anxious self to the fridge and got a beer, and went to the computer to look up my feelings/symptoms online. The closest match I found was “mini nervous breakdown”. I listened to some Radiohead, drank my beer, and played with my cat, and told myself the feeling would pass, and that it was all triggered by feeling alack of control. The next day, I was much better.
  • In 2009, someone very close to me (whose identity and relationship I’ll protect) tried to commit suicide. I spoke to them on the phone as they slid into unconsciousness from a Tylenol overdose, and I tried to keep them talking until the ambulance arrived. I bargained, I begged, and I yelled. When I finally heard the sirens in the background and then the paramedic’s voices in the room, the phone line went dead, and I collapsed in a sobbing heap on the floor, thinking that I might never see this person again. They survived, but that moment on the phone was as close as I ever want to come to saying goodbye to that person. I realized afterwards that I fear being abandoned and left alone. I don’t want to be the last one standing in my family.
  • My obsessive attachment to my parent’s memories has manifested in a compulsive need to document them and talk about them. This is probably the only way I can retain my attachment to them posthumously. There’s nothing else left. It’s also resulted in my remaining direct (full) family member becoming symbolically super-important to me, such that if I don’t hear from her regularly, I begin feeling anxious and insecure.
  • In the absence of regular siblings around me, I have at times assigned parental or sibling roles onto friends, either consciously  or sub-consciously. So, older female friends may end up treating me with kindness (baking, or sweet words or sympathy) that to me, resembles motherly affection. Younger females (whether relations, acquaintances or colleagues) may also be treated by me as “little sisters”, particularly if they’ve ever sought my opinion or emotional support in the past. I like feeling a good son, and also like a protective big brother. It’s not always been well-balanced or healthy, but I guess I need my symbolic proxies.
  • I had what I would characterize as another mini-nervous breakdown in 2014, triggered by fear of a failing personal relationship, and then exacerbated by a falling out with a favoured coworker. I developed a severely anxious over-reaction to the coworker’s own insecurity and their resulting lack of reciprocal communication (I was frozen out, “ghosted” as I’ve learned it’s called). I’d never experienced such an overtly negative breakdown of affinity, and for months afterwards I held onto a deep shame over hurting them and in realizing that some of it had played out in front of my other colleagues. My professional veneer had been torn away, and in my mind I decided I had to try and repack my personal baggage away as soon as possible and re-establish a persona of outer confidence before it could regrow naturally on the inside. This internal confidence rebuilding took me months, and was like a wound being torn open and rehealed a number of times, gradually getting less raw with each iteration. There’s no band-aid for this shit – no quick fix – just the regrowth of protective scar tissue. I have a difficult time letting go of people and their symbolic value once I’ve let them get under my skin.

All of these experiences seem to have a few things in common: they are episodic (they seem temporary, with a beginning, middle and end, and do not persist chronically for year after year), and they are all connected to my perceived lack of control over events.

The most important thing for me to realize is that it’s my mind, my psychology, that’s truly at the centre of all my problems. My memories and my beliefs about myself are at the core of all my worries, regardless of whomever else I believe is involved. The only thing I can truly control is my inner landscape, and the way in which I choose to respond to outside events and attitudes.